Jihad Vs. McWorld; Only One Will Stand

Dylan Tucker


I would like to examine the American corporate empire as it bumps heads with the world of Islamic jihad, as is described in Benjamin Barber's book Jihad Vs. McWorld. It is my understanding that these two struggling competitive forces, while differing in many ways when it comes to goals and methods, are also alike in many ways as well. Both operate under hierarchical power structures, and both seem to slip around, if not directly stifle, true democracy. Both also seek global domination of some sort, which further pits each group against the other. Because of all of this, it is my opinion that it is eventually impossible for both to coexist in a world only big enough for one of the two.

Let me begin by talking about the jihad, or the holy war being perpetuated by Islamic fundamentalists. This group of people involved in Islamic jihad spans over many countries and encompasses many smaller groups throughout the Arabic world. For the purpose of this paper, when I am referring to the world of jihad, I will be referring more toward those under the blanket of Al Queda, a large organization of Islamic terrorists that is made up of many smaller fundamentalist groups, one of which, being the Taliban. I refer more toward Al Qaeda, rather than other Islamic jihad groups, such as the PLO and Hamas, because Al Qaeda entertains more thoughts of globalization and world domination, as do the corporations of McWorld, which I will be talking about.

These Al Qaeda fundamentalists are on a mission from God, or Allah, as they see it. Their mission is to spread their way of life throughout the world, returning Islam to its "fundamentals" in their eyes. As if their missionary impulse isn't enough, many of them believe so strongly in this jihad, or holy war, that they are willing to sacrifice human lives (their own as well as that of others) in order to accomplish their purpose.

This is scary, not only because their vision of what is "good" differs so much from the rest of the world, but because they are willing to use such drastic and violent means to achieve this vision. These fundamentalists link themselves to the past, a time of greater purity in their eyes, and they view all types of modernism as evil and against Allah. It is only natural then, that their archenemy be the ultra-modern corporate machine that is the American empire.
The American corporate empire, or McWorld, as Barber calls it, directly bumps heads with the world of Al Qaeda and jihad. Their goals could be said to be completely opposite to those of the Islamic fundamentalists. They value, not a higher purpose or religious ideal, but simply cold, hard cash. The goal of this corporate empire is to grow exponentially, and to make more and more money while doing so. American-based businesses such as McDonalds' fast food chains symbolize this attitude, which is why Barber chose the name "McWorld." Indeed, McDonalds is a good example, because their corporate imperialism is very apparent. Virtually every developed country has numerous McDonalds locations at this point in time, peddling hamburgers, chicken nuggets, and American culture to people all over the world.

One thing that these two rivals have in common is their lack of concern for human life. Both are primarily concerned with their own goals, failing to take other mind-states or points of view into account. Islamic fundamentalists see only their holy war as important, putting nothing else above it. Loss of human life along the way is seen as a necessary sacrifice. The American empire in turn, sees life only in terms of their own profits, and places all value on these profits above any and everything else. Here human life is also taken for granted, using human beings as simply small, expendable parts or the larger working corporate machine. It can also be said that both forces seek to avert true democracy, and it can be a scary realization when one notices how much each of these movements is alike in this respect.
Al Qaeda clearly has no respect for democracy. These are religious fundamentalists, whose hierarchical religious structure almost forbids anything but dictatorship. After all isn't Allah the ultimate dictator? He is as Jesus is to Christians, and the whole concept of monotheistic religion revolves around dictatorship. Rulers (such as the prophet Mohammed), kings, and of course Allah, are praised and democratic rule ignored. Emphasis is placed on other values such as piety and equality, instead of democracy.

These fundamentalists also reject democracy because they associate themselves with an ancient era of authoritarian rule in the Middle East. They connect themselves to times when there were great leaders, such as the prophet Mohammed, and all good Muslims did their part to humbly serve under him. These are people who have grown to operate as one larger entity, and are quite comfortable giving up their individuality to become a part of it.
McWorld in turn, does everything in its power to stifle democracy as well. Just as the very nature of the Islamic religion is hierarchical in structure, so is the structure of the corporate business world. The few corporate CEO's call the shots, while the masses of people under them operate as simply working pieces of the larger machine, as I have previously stated. There is no respect for democracy, only profit. Money is the only language that McWorld speaks, and instead of letting governments operate democratically, they use this money to slip around them.

In 2002 these huge global corporations have much more to do with deciding governmental policy than "the people". Their political influence is so great that it is almost immeasurable, making politics and big-business practically inseparable. The main difference between Jihad and McWorld in this respect, is that McWorld pushes a false image of democracy, while the other makes no attempt to even appear democratic. The corporations of McWorld claim that they are simply offering the world a choice (which seems very democratic), and if the people didn't want Big Macs all over the world, then they wouldn't be in business. This sounds very nice in theory, but what they are actually doing is moving in and conquering foreign markets. Big Macs are not being "offered" to these foreign markets, they are being pushed on them, and McWorld's "everyone has a choice" story works as a public relations campaign, twisting (if not completely disguising) the truth of the matter.

It is obvious now, that both movements at hand seek to erase, or at least avoid and slip around democratic rule. They are shockingly similar in this respect. Ironically, it is precisely this similarity that makes it impossible for both movements to succeed simultaneously. The lack of democracy on both sides prevents any type of democratic agreement ever being reached. It is highly unlikely that the leaders of both jihad and McWorld will, at any time in the near future, sit down and take a vote on how and in what areas each will extend its influence. The authoritarian nature of both groups prevents this. Instead what we are left with is leaders on both sides. The one group of leaders is pitted against the other, and the result can only be an "either or" situation.

This is also particularly true due to the fact that each group exhibits interest in globalization. The aspirations of globalization on the part of McWorld are very evident, and obvious. American corporations aim their sights at globalization from day one, seeking to conquer foreign markets by pushing them American goods and culture. In fact, the business plans for most corporations depend on expansion and growth in order to maximize profits. What this means is, to continue making money, a fast food chain, for example, must continue to open new locations.

Take McDonalds specifically: in order to continue profiting, the McDonalds corporation must open ten new restaurants every week (this is just a guess; I don't know the actual figure, although I read it once). If you look at it logically, there is only so long McDonalds can keep opening ten restaurants per week within the borders of the US. There is only so much space within this country, and if McDonalds restaurants are opened up too close to each other the competition will drive some of the individual restaurants out of business, thus bringing profits down. It is only logical that, after an initial period of growth here in their home country, American-based corporations such as McDonalds, turn their sights to foreign markets for further expansion.

One major problem that the Islamic world has with the American corporate empire is precisely this attempt to conquer the global marketplace, and the way American corporations tend to go about it. American culture is callously sold across the world, with little or no attempt to respect the native culture of the area it is being imposed on. Sure, European McDonalds restaurants serve mayonnaise with their french fries instead of ketchup, and those in India serve more chicken products instead of beef (due to the sacredness of the cow in the Hindu religion), but the fact remains, McDonalds is still McDonalds. I am confident in the fact that I could walk into any McDonalds restaurant in the world, and, give or take a few items and name changes, pretty much know the entire menu being offered.

It is usually the policy of these corporations to fill all low-level (as well as some mid-range) positions of employment with locals to the specific area. Still, all high-level employees and executives, who are making the real business decisions, are always based back in America. As a result, this leaves all of these American-based businesses very homogenized, with a distinctly American feel. Native culture offers no big payoff for McWorld, so McWorld chooses to ignore it. Maybe if the corporations of McWorld showed more respect, and paid more attention to local culture and customs, then they wouldn't be so hated by the rest of the world, particularly the Islamic nations.

The type of globalization practiced by followers of jihad, such as Al Qaeda, is quite different than that of McWorld. The Arabic world has no large corporations suited for moving in on foreign markets. They have no huge, corporate, profit-making machine, as we do in this country. What they do have is a great number of devout Muslim fundamentalists willing to go to war, and even die for their religion. Only, their extreme form of religion is so infused with politics, that the two are inseparable. It is taught to them that America is "the great devil", and a natural enemy of Islam. This is taught with the rigidity of a religious, not political, principle, and is thus seen as such. It is also taught to them that all who die fighting a holy war, or jihad, for Allah, automatically receive access to paradise in the afterlife, a place analogous to Christian heaven. Put these two pieces of information together and you have Al Qaeda: an unofficial army of Islamic fundamentalists willing to do whatever it takes to bring down the great devil's unholy kingdom, and spread their extreme fundamentalist values in its place.

Because of their lack of access to other means, their chosen tactic for globalization is terrorism. Through terrorism groups such as Al Qaeda, and the Taliban under them, have reached all over the world. Wherever America extends its corporate reach, so can they extend their reach of terror. They have touched many nations with their attacks on public monuments by terrorist attackers and suicide bombers. Take, for example, the bombing of a US embassy in Africa a few years back, or, the most obvious example, the events of September 11th, where this country was hit with the worst terrorist attacks in its history. With these events the world of jihad showed evidence of their goals of globalization, proving that they had dedicated members within the borders of our own country, who were committed to Islamic jihad enough to take action. Another example could be John Walker, an American who, even in his upbringing in liberal California, was reached by the message of Islamic jihad and persuaded to join the cause. It is clear that Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as Al Queda, share McWorld's aspirations of globalization.

One might say that the common interests of both Jihad and McWorld are much more dangerous than their opposing interests. This is because among the common interests of these two groups are crippling democracy and dominating the world. In these respects both sides seek to do the same thing, but the very nature of these things that they mutually seek to do, excludes both parties from being able to do so at the same time. The result of this deadly game can only be seen as a "win-lose" situation, where one group emerges triumphant and the other is defeated.

This brings me to my main point. With both of these drastically opposing groups sharing anti-democratic goals, as well as ambition of world domination, only one can remain standing when the conflict is over. The nature of their goals makes it impossible for them to both do so. The only other plausible scenario would be the intervention of a third party of some sort to put an end to both Jihad and McWorld, but this doesn't appear to be very likely. What does look likely is an enduring conflict and power struggle over control of the world for the new millennium, eventually ending with either Islamic fundamentalists or the American corporate empire in control. Not that I admire either side in the conflict, but I personally hope that McWorld wins, only because I like my women independent and veil-free.